The comeback of iconic Swedish pop group ABBA had a pleasant side effect: vinyl record sales skyrocketed. Voyage sold about 30,000 copies in the first week alone, and ended the year at #3 in vinyl sales figures. It was even described as the "fastest-selling vinyl album of the century."
On November 5 2021, ABBA released Voyage, their first album in over 40 years. It led to vinyl sales ending on an 8% high in a year which had already seen strong performances for the medium, thanks to mega-releases from Adele (30) and Ed Sheeran (=).
To top it all off, Olivia Rodrigo's SOUR was a surprise vinyl hit. And classic albums and compilations from Queen, Elton John, and Fleetwood Mac held their own too.
Meanwhile, newer media like CDs and cassettes have either dropped in sales or sold minute amounts to begin with.
What is it that makes vinyl an enduring medium for new and old albums alike?
The allure of a vinyl record
Although streaming amounts for 83% of today's music market revenue, the vinyl record is in the middle of a renaissance. Vinyl sales are the highest they have been in over three decades.
First and foremost, a vinyl record has an undeniable sonic personality. In an age of crystal-clear production and remasters with cleaned sound, an actual vinyl record provides a transporting listening experience.
Digital repurposing often gives music a more artificial, almost metallic sound and sheen, whereas a vinyl's sonic quality is lush and warm.
Vinyl records are a perfect way to preserve classic albums in the form of a souvenir. Many acts release their albums in multiple vinyl colors. Rare vinyl versions of beloved albums are a revered collector's item. Vinyl records are as much about the theatrics as the music.
Music enthusiasts feature record collections prominently in their homes. For instance, here is Dakota Johnson boasting about her record collection while giving a house tour to Architecture Digest:
Physical in the world of digital
Setting up a vinyl record on a record player or a turntable is a quintessential music experience. In today's world, we have been deprived of physically experiencing so many forms of media. The existence of a vinyl record, large in diameter and beautifully textured, is a treat to the senses.
The feeling is similar to the theory that pushing actual tactile buttons while playing video games tends to provide more enjoyment than haptic buttons.
High vinyl sales of a recent album often point to it being hailed as an instant classic. Olivia's SOUR is a prime example from 2021, as it is lauded as a generational Gen-Z record. Adele's 30, a similarly-touted record, actually broke down supply chains due to excessive demand.
While vinyls aren't as ubiquitous as they once were, they certainly have found their own place in the zeitgeist. And the vinyl renaissance only seems to be heading upwards.
Note: The article reflects the writer's personal views.